How I got hooked on Piazzolla . . .
Astor Piazzolla was the father of ‘new tango’ (born 1954!) Although you can’t really dance to his music in a ballroom setting.
I’d seen a few Tango Forever shows, that got booked at Theatre on the Square every other year. As a matter fact I think they’re back right now. I liked the sensual/romantic/hard knocks life aura of the dance; and it refreshingly that the best performers in that show were the older, heavier-set couples. (A reality check that you don’t have to be model-skinny to be a dance beautifully). The music didn’t make as strong as impression on me.
1998: Then one day I was browsing in Amoeba’s classical section, and saw Yo Yo Ma had a new CD release “Soul of the Tango: The Music of Astor Piazzolla”. I was so curious, I actually paid retail for a brand new copy.
I liked the music enough that I started scouring the used bins for more Piazzolla CDs. I like his newer stuff better than his older stuff. (His career spanned almost 50 years!). We walked down the aisle to his “Tanti Anni Prima.” (In 2002, music at the Dutch crown prince’s wedding included “Adios Nonino”, arguably Piazzolla’s most famous composition.)
Why do I like his music? Errr. . . it’s just moving melodic moody romantic stuff. I don’t have enough music vocabulary to explain it. But it’s good, trust me. The ‘Songs from a Heavy Heart’ compilation is a good introduction. (The sad thing is even though I have a dozen CDs of his music and I’ve listened enough to them where I recognise tunes even if I hear them elsewhere, but I haven’t gotten straight which is the name of which tune.)
Reading his biography, you find out fascinating things about the man behind the music: he was a practical joker, he started out playing in typical tango bands (that type you could dance to), but evolved to develop his own type of music ‘new tango’, and battled tango music reactionaries for that. (Literally he was involved in a few punch-ups!) In his time, he was more popular in Brazil than at home in Argentina.
Plus he had a nomadic, multilingual life (totally can relate to that!): grandparents from Italy immigrated to Argentina, where he was born, then he and his parents moved to New York, then back to Argentina. The rest of his life he bounced around Western Europe, the US and Argentina.
Piazzolla was also a hat trickster of a composer, bandoneon player, and bandleader/ arranger.
Bandoneon: “This strange instrument . . . many people they say it’s an accordion, it’s not an accordion, it’s a bandoneon. It’s an instrument that was invented in Germany in 1854 to play religious music in a church. It started in a church and then a couple years later they took it to the whorehouses in Buenos Aires. . . . It’s the real life of this instrument, a very surrealistic life, but that’s how tango was born. . .”
The sacred and profane come together. And apparently it’s very hard to play, harder than an accordion.
[The funny thing is I had seen Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together (set in Buenos Aires) when it was released in 1997, but at that point I knew nothing of Piazzolla. I rented it again recently and was please to note that in the pivotal scene where Leslie Cheung rests his head on Tony Leung’s shoulder as they’re riding in the backseat of a taxi, is scored to a track from Piazzolla/Hanrahan “The Rough Dancer . . .” album. At this rate, you probably can’t make a film set in Argentina or Buenos Aires without a Piazzolla tune. Unless it’s got Gael Garcia Bernal in it!]